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Bare Market: More than 300 naturists to go nude to Howe Caverns

Howe Caverns (Michael Davis/Syracuse New Times)

Summertime is prime time for a visit to Howe Caverns, the hot-weather destination in Schoharie County that has lured thousands to partake in atmospheric spelunking 15 stories underground. From impressive rock formations to other geological wonders, Howe Caverns rates as a must-see.

On Saturday, July 14, however, there will be much more to see than stalactites and stalagmites. In celebration of International Nude Day, Howe Caverns will host “Naked in a Cave,” extending an offer to nudists to spend an evening engaged in au naturel activities. Even Sarah Danser, a survivalist star of the Discovery Channel’s cultish reality series Naked and Afraid, heard about Howe’s special occasion and will travel from Honolulu to the Cobleskill area to get in on the action.

Michael Davis/Syracuse New Times

It wasn’t hard to rouse attention for this unique event. Howe general manager April Islip simply posted the news on the venue’s Facebook page at the end of April, and she’s been fielding inquiries ever since. Islip said “Naked in a Cave” is a response to requests from nudist groups for years about holding such an event amid Howe’s natural surroundings.

So how far away are people traveling for this night? “We have a couple flying in from Chicago and a couple from the Washington, D.C., area,” Islip said, “and we have a big party coming from Virginia.”

Regarding the nudist enclaves that are closer to home, Islip noted, “We have a lot from the Massachusetts-Berkshires area, there are quite a few from Troy, and a lot from Rochester are coming.” The event is “close to a sellout,” Islip said at press time, with a maximum head count of 350.

And Danser lends star power to the occasion, given the popularity of her Naked and Afraid series, which resembles a cross between the long-running CBS series Survivor and the 1965 Cornel Wilde adventure movie The Naked Prey. “We are so thrilled that Sarah is making the long journey from Hawaii to be with us for this very special historic event,” Islip stated. “Sarah strongly supports body positivity and hopes she can use some of her own experiences to help carry that message.”

Danser will participate in meet-and-greet, autograph and photo sessions during the event, which runs from 7:30 to 11 p.m. Also on hand will be classical guitarist Harry G. Pellegrin, who will perform music in the venue’s lodge; harpist Lydia Zotto, who provides aural accompaniment in the cavern; and balloon artist Daryl Baldwin offers fun with rubbery toys.

A cash bar will be available, and the venue’s café will stay open, as the kitchen staff is working on special dishes for the menu. Perhaps the chefs will take a cue from an old joke recited by a wedding deejay regarding a “honeymoon salad,” which consists of “lettuce alone, no dressing required.”


The Land Down Under 

Aside from the “Naked in a Cave” event, Howe Caverns keeps plenty busy every day during the summer months, followed by seasonal hours the rest of the year.

Following an elevator ride 156 feet down to the cave, the 90-minute traditional tour features a chatty guide who leads groups of 30 to 35 people past a half-mile of rocky formations that are enhanced by multicolored lighting effects, plus a brief boat ride that stretches an eighth of a mile. Howe highlights include the Bridal Altar and the tight squeezes of the Winding Way.

Michael Davis/Syracuse New Times

As the second-most visited natural attraction in the Empire State (Niagara Falls takes first place), Howe Caverns has a global reputation. “We get a lot of international visitors,” Islip noted. “Next to Canada, the most amount of our visitors come from Israel. We also get a lot from China, we get quite a bit from Australia, and we’ve had some recently from Denmark.”

The cave also maintains a balmy temperature of 52 degrees year-round. Jackets are a good idea to tote along for the subterranean journey, even during a July heat wave.

The “Naked in a Cave” event will differ from the usual Howe Caverns experience, however. For starters, there’s that aforementioned elevator ride: Saturday evening’s visitors will be wearing souvenir robes as they enter the elevator, then disrobe as they venture into the cave.

“We’re also not orchestrating it as a structured tour,” Islip said. “It’s more like a leisurely stroll at their own pace. We will have staffed stations throughout the cave for security and to point people in the right direction. We will also have numbered stops on the tour. And each person will receive a pamphlet with information that they can read while on their stroll.”

Howe employees recently tested the “Naked in a Cave” concept firsthand, as Islip took the plunge with her staffers in their birthday suits. And unlike George Costanza’s bout with “shrinkage” in a 1994 Seinfeld episode, the 52-degree temperature was not a deal-breaker.

“It wasn’t as cold as we thought it was going to be,” Islip recalled. “It felt cool but not uncomfortable, and we were down there for an hour. We walked the whole tour and went on the boat ride, and we had a lot of fun.

Michael Davis/Syracuse New Times

“The best way we’ve been explaining it to people is that when you normally do the tour, what’s usually cold is the things that are not covered, such as your hands and your face. So when nothing’s covered, it kind of evens things out.” Islip added that the fan system that pushes the air through the cavern will be shut down Saturday night so it won’t stay at the usual cool temperature.

Peg Lane, owner of the clothing-optional Juniper Woods Campground in Catskill, said that she and her husband will be part of a participating foursome at Howe Caverns. “I’m glad that Howe has arranged such an event,” Lane said, although she was somewhat surprised that Howe didn’t use the auspices of the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR) to help promote the occasion.

Lane is now a club trustee on the AANR board, so she will file a report on the Howe event at the August AANR convention held in San Diego. “It’s great that Howe is accepting of the idea,” Lane added, “There’s not a lot of acceptance in the area (regarding naturism).”

Lane also found some amusement regarding Howe’s 52-degree temperature. When told that her husband could keep her warm, she said with a laugh, “He’s always the cold one!”


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